On June 29, 20015, Jarrell Milton, Jamar Milton and Shauntayvious Primes-Willis (aged 12, 17, and 15, respectively) were involved in a gang-related shooting over a drug deal where Jamymell Ray, 31, was killed in Omaha, Nebraska. Jamar and Shauntayvious were apprehended immediately following the crime but Jarrell wasn’t arrested until 10 days later, all the way in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Prosecutors say that Ray and friend Charles Fisher, who was injured but later released from the hospital, had arranged to meet the kids in a park to sell them marijuana when they were hit by gunfire. Prosecutors said Wednesday that they plan to charge Jarrell and two teen accomplices with first-degree murder as adults; “All three suspects had guns. There were shell casings from two different types of guns at the scene,” Douglas County District Attorney Don Kleine said, adding that the victim was shot at close range.
Developmentally speaking, the fact that the District Attorney is even entertaining the notion of trying a pre-teen as an adult for a Murder I charge is horrifying. There is irrefutable scientific research that proves that a person that young cognitively cannot comprehend the impact of his actions. Jarrell Milton is pre-pubescent which means that his neurological cognitive functioning makes it physiologically impossible for him to consider the long term consequences of his actions. At puberty, a child’s Limbic System experiences an increase in dopamine levels while, conversely, the amygdala becomes extremely underactive. This opposing relationship cause a drastic increase in adolescent risk-taking and delinquent behaviors. This biologically programmed poor decision making is exacerbated by the presence of one’s peers. The prosecution’s theory that Jarrell Milton had been complicit in a premeditative plan to lure a man to the park so that they could attempt a robbery is idiotic. Children are physically, biologically and neurologically incapable of making the same informed critical thinking as an adult, therefore, it is essentially immoral and unethical to try a child as an adult.
Neurobiological immaturity aside, Jarrell Milton suffered from so many traumatic Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) that his brain most likely was under-developed compared to a neuro-typically developing peer without prior ACEs. Scientific research has proven that adolescent trauma negatively affects neurological development. As a toddler, Jarrell’s mother was incarcerated for felony assault and Jarrell, along with this 7 siblings, were sent to live in state run foster care. Jarrell’s father is also currently serving a life sentence in prison for a murder conviction as a result of a drug deal gone wrong, exactly the same crime and charges that his 12-year-old son is now facing. This child grew up surrounded by crime, gangs and violent peer influence that detrimentally affected his neurological and social development. Gangs, such as the Nike Street Gang that Jarrell, his brother and also his cousins are a part of, are notorious for exploiting their young members for carrying out crimes because they would receive less time in jail because of their ages. The lack of family stability that Jarrell has experienced for his entire short life made him a perfect target for the manipulative “family” of a gang.
The neglect, unstable housing, out of home placements, family disorganization and overall household dysfunction Jarrell has faced because of both of his parents’ individual incarcerations and the resulting clear lack of supervision because of his absentee parents is evident in Jarrell’s ability to obtain a firearm and maintain his gang affiliation without any reported parental intervention. Before this crime was even committed, Jarrell Milton had five serious environmental Adverse Childhood Experiences, which leads us to safely be able to assume that the shooting was not simply due to his gang’s peer pressure (which I consider an extremely dismissive term for something so maladaptive), but also a result of the severe physiological trauma that Jarrell constantly endured by the age of 12.
Further traumatizing has been Jarrell’s experiences after being arrested. He had the post-traumatic stress of reliving what he had witnessed and allegedly committed, he had to flee 400 miles in order to evade capture and he was then shackled during his court appearance where he was told he was called a “danger to himself and others” and that he would be tried as an adult for murder and denied bail. Although it is new research that has yet to make it into legislative laws regarding the Juvenile Justice System, there is still solid evidence that shows the effectiveness of intervention and rehabilitation instead of incarceration of adolescents. An incarcerated youth is 8x more likely to commit suicide, 5x more likely to be sexually assault and has an increased rate of recidivism compared to a rehabilitated juvenile offender who is taught skills to help increase self-regulatory processes.
The fact remains that a juvenile is simply not equipped developmentally to be culpable for their crimes. They don’t have the mental faculties to be able to make informed, rational decisions because they have no independent self-regulation. A person’s self-regulation is supposed to be learned through positive, nurturing, learned experiences throughout childhood. Jarrell Milton never had the affirmative influence of a stable family unit which clearly has already greatly affected him. Jarrell’s grandmother commented on his arrest by saying that he “never had a chance” because of his environment. To possibly incarcerate a 12-year-old for the rest of his life instead of providing him with the rehabilitation to teach him the social-emotional skills he missed growing up in the home he was exposed to would be a crime.